Thursday, June 21, 2018

Lack of Clarity


Month 7 Day 31
0659 Hours
Smitty

“We talked in the messhall, captain,” Smitty stated as they boarded the lift.

“That’s not the place to discuss a crew member’s performance,” she returned as 3 more people lunged to join the crowd already in the lift.

Smitty paused. Did I forget somebody’s performance review? “Who?”

Jane gave him a cold look as the lift let 2 people off, giving the rest of them some breathing space. “Yours, possibly,” she muttered. “I’ve hardly seen you for 2 weeks, and when I have, your mind has been light years away.”

It can’t have been 2 weeks. Can it? “I can explain, captain.”

This glance was colder, and her voice lower. “I’m sure you can. Once we get to a place where we can talk.”

Another stop disgorged most of the remaining people, but 2 lieutenants accompanied them to the bridge, where the lift opened onto bedlam.

“Mac, what did you say to Oakhurst last night?” Bugalu asked from the helm.

Evans stopped arguing with Abdulla to face the newcomers and blurted, “Captain, she was late to her station!”

“I’ll handle this!” Abdulla hissed at him, and faced them, suddenly calm. “Mr Smythe, Lt MacDowell is my subordinate, so it should be me who investigates her failure and decide what her consequences should be.”

True, but Colleen’s assigned to Evans’ bridge, and he’s charged with keeping the midnighters in line. I hate turf wars like this.

Jane didn’t have any misgivings about wading into the middle of this mess. “Mr Evans, make yourself clear. You only have one female assigned to the midnight bridge, but there are a number of females on the day bridge, so which female do you mean?” Abdulla hid her surprise better than Evans.

“Ah... M- Lt MacDowell was 15 minutes late, captain.”

“9,” Abdulla corrected. “I checked the record!”

Evans glared at the day shift officer. “When she did arrive, she was still putting her hair up in a, a half-hearted bun.” Jane considered Colleen’s red hair, and he added, “She fixed it during her lunch break.”

“I see,” Jane stated. “MacDowell, did you oversleep?”

“No, captain.”

“Get engrossed by a project?”

“Not one of mine,” Colleen stated.

“Somebody else’s project?”

Her green gaze looked at him, slid to the captain, then the floor. “I don’t know,” she whispered.

“What were you doing?” Jane asked, and Smitty could hear a touch of testiness in her voice.

“Talking.”

“Who with?”

“Lt Oakhurst.”

“Rags?” Abdulla turned to Smitty. “I thought Negron was testing her.”

“Oakhurst is one of yours?” Jane asked, also turning to him. “What’s she being tested on?”

“Ah... computers. Negron was supposed to test and train her, but made a mess of it, so I handed it to Oakhurst.”

“I see.” Before she turned away, Jane’s eyes told him they would speak of this again. “Surely Lt Oakhurst didn’t make you late for duty.”

Colleen raised her head. “Not on purpose. I’m sure it wasn’t on purpose. We were talking, studied some schematics. He pulled up a program and told me there was a bug in it he couldn’t find. I didn’t really believe him, but I found 2. And one I wasn’t sure was a bug, but it didn’t feel right. Couldn’t tell him about that one, because a man said he was reporting in. That’s when I saw the time and raced-“ She sighed. “But I was late.”

Smitty stared at her. “You ran from engineering to the bridge in 9 minutes?”

“With a stop at her quarters, too, most likely,” Jane added. “If she wasn’t in uniform.”

“Of course,” Smitty agreed, but the thought only made it harder to believe.

“It... wasn’t quite midnight when I left engineering,” Colleen corrected.

“Jane leaned back on her heels, her eyes on the ceiling as she thought. “Mr Evans, I assume you bring this to my attention because MacDowell has a habit of being late.”

Evans’ cheeks turned ruddy. “I didn’t say that, captain.”

“Not yet a habit, then. How often has she been late during the last 6 months?”

Abdulla waited for his response. If she doesn’t like his answer, she’ll dig through the records for proof. Because I’m sure she’s kept an eye on those records all along.

Evans’ mouth worked a bit, and then he stated, “This was her first time.”

“Her fir-“ Jane took a sharp breath, her mood changing. “Why mention it? I would expect you to reprimand her and be done with it.”

“I did! I mean, I would have, but she refused to tell me why she was late!”

“Not important when it’s her first tardiness in 7, almost 8 months! If it became a habit, then you might dig into the excuses! You are relieved, Mr Evans. You may leave the bridge.”

“Yes, captain. Thank you, captain.”

As the midnight helmsman left, his face red, Jane held up her hand to hold the 2 communications officers in place. “Mr Bugalu, did you ask MacDowell something about Lt Oakhurst?”

“Yes, captain, I did,” the helmsman replied.

“Did it have any bearing on her being late?”

“I... didn’t know,” he returned. “I spoke out of surprise.”

“That she spent time with Mr Oakhurst last night?”

“No, captain, I was there when he asked her to finish her test.”

“What was your surprise, that made you speak of it?”

Bugalu cleared his throat, stood to face her. “When I signed in at my post, I received a message from Lt Oakhurst in which he apologized for having Mac -Dowell break our date yesterday.”

“Oh.” Jane dismissed the distraction. “Smythe, MacDowell, my office.”

Now what? She dismissed Evans’ complaint. He followed the women into the captain’s office, but when Jane stood behind her desk, Colleen didn’t sit. Smitty took a position next to his subordinate. Jane’s attention shifted from Colleen to Smitty and back again, as if she didn’t know which of them to start with.

“Oakhurst should have started the test early enough to get done before your shift began,” Jane stated.

“I didn’t think it would take that long,” Colleen answered. “He approached me in the rec room just after C shift started.”

Jane turned to him. “8 hours?”

“I’ve never taken that long, not in 1... sitting. But Oakhurst, uh, hasn’t had as much practice.”

Jane considered him for a moment. “I thought you conduct the tests.”

Smitty tried not to blush. “Somehow, that didn’t work, in this case. Besides, it’s good the seniors get some practice at it.”

“Perhaps Oakhurst isn’t ready, if his tests last so long.”

“I don’t-“ Colleen started.

“Wait your turn.”

“Yes, captain.”

“Originally, Negron was testing MacDowell. Negron’s not a senior.”

“They - Colleen and Negron - had a disagreement about computers. I thought if he tested her, it might assuage his opinion of her.”

“Instead, he botched the job, and you turned it over to Oakhurst.” She sat down, but neither of them followed suit. “When?”

“What?”

“When did you give the assignment to Oakhurst?” she asked impatiently.

“Ahh, yesterday morning.”

“I suppose we should give him points for wanting to get it done, and for not waking her up to do it.”

“I... believe he was asleep on B shift,” Smitty stated.

Jane looked up in surprise. “Asleep. What shift is he on?”

“D shift,” Colleen stated, and hurriedly lowered her burning face. “Sorry, captain.”

Jane didn’t take exception to the interruption, this time. “Smitty, if you’re going to have other people test her, make sure they understand they can’t make her late for duty.” She abruptly turned her attention to the girl. “He’s not expecting to continue the test today, is he?”

Colleen didn’t answer. Smitty’s hand twitched at his side. Green eyes glanced up, and she realized the question had been directed at her. “I- I don’t know. Nothing was said, but I... was in a hurry.”

Jane sighed. “I instructed Lt MacDowell not to get so caught up in her projects - one of which is for you, after all - that she has no social life. Now she not only was late, she broke a date, and that isn’t fair.” She reached to turn on her computer. “Can’t imagine why he felt the need to move so quickly.”

“I- I did tell him not to take 12 days,” Smitty admitted.

“Where did 12 days come into this?”

“Negron took that long to turn in his report.”

“How long was the test Negron gave you?”

“Ahhh, 5 meetings. None of them more than an hour,” Colleen stated.

“Smitty, I understand your desire to have good people on your team, but part of your job is to prepare them for the next step in their career. If they can’t test someone and turn in the results within acceptable parameters, then somebody is not doing his best for them.”

How did Colleen being late become a back mark against me? Not that Jane’s wrong. I get so comfortable with my team, I forget to teach them the non-engineering aspects of the next job they’ll someday have. “Yes, captain. I understand.”

“Good. You’re dismissed.” Jane was working on her computer, sorting email, probably. Colleen had disappeared. He looked around the office in confusion. “She left while you were mulling over what I said,” Jane stated.

“I see.” He didn’t understand how the girl could have left without him realizing it, but she had, and her absence left a twisted ache in his chest that reminded him, somehow, of his first year at the Academy. He started for the door and then paused. “What did you want to talk about? Before that hullabaloo on the bridge?”

Jane looked up from her screen. “If you’d heard anything from MacDowell about that technual she’s translating for you.”

He gave her a broad smile. “She sends me an update every morning. A few words haven’t yet been translated, but the schematics are starting to make sense.”

“If you’re going to try building one of their transporter ray machines, don’t do it in engineering. Find an empty room.”

“I’ll look,” he agreed, and left.